The Kansas City Star tries hard — really hard — to tell an inspiring story about a Presbyterian church that split.
The problem: The facts make the positive spin a little difficult to compute.
Basically, turmoil engulfed a congregation affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). When the national denomination approved ordaining gay clergy, a big chunk of an Overland Park, Kan., congregation decided to join a more conservative denomination. Members voted 350-100 for the switch, according to the Star.
But the change to the new denomination — A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO) — sparked a legal fight:
Heartland Presbytery, the regional body that represents Presbyterian Church USA, filed a lawsuit in Johnson County District Court against the 350 disaffiliated members. Heartland argued that Presbyterian Church USA owned the church, its pews, its Bibles and all other property. But the ECO faction believed the church and its contents belonged to the congregation, the entity that holds title to the building.
Based on Kansas’ adherence to denominational rules, the judge found that Heartland Presbytery, represented by the remaining 100 members, was the true owner of the church property.
The division and the lawsuit created a perfect storm between the two groups that caused about 600 people to leave the church entirely.
These kind of legal fights are, of course, not limited to Presbyterians. Just today, a major ruling in a case involving Episcopal churches was issued in South Carolina. Look for GetReligion analysis of media coverage there soon.
But back to the Star: What is the news angle?
It's that a different Presbyterian church has adopted the remaining members at the split church and kept it open as a satellite branch. The "revitalized" church had 200 in attendance on Easter, the newspaper reports.
More from the story:
Phil Hendrickson is a former charter member and session clerk of the Presbyterian Church of Stanley. He decided to continue on as a member of the Presbyterian Church of Stanley, but was sad to see some of his friends go.
“You don’t want to go to church in the middle of a lawsuit, but that’s behind us now,” Hendrickson said.
The storm left the Stanley church to pick up the pieces with only 100 members, which wasn’t enough to support a 40,000-square-foot building.
“The question was, how much longer can we survive energy-wise and financially?” Hendrickson said. “We used to have 20 employees, then with the split we came down to one part-time employee. We weren’t sure, but we weren’t interested in just surviving. That’s not what churches do: just survive. If we doubled, we would just survive, but we wanted to flourish again.”
That’s when the standing members invited the Village Presbyterian Church to create a satellite of their congregation in the Stanley church building.
Village Presbyterian’s senior pastor, the Rev. Tom Are, saw this as a chance for the church community to grow in southern Johnson County, where it hadn’t been as active.
“The people there were very faithful, courageous and sacrificial — really in wanting to give themselves away to something new so there would continue to be a church in that place,” Are said. “I found that inspiring; I found that encouraging. So we wanted to respond to that.”
I could copy and paste more details, but that's the gist. The storyline is that this is positive. This is encouraging. And to those left behind, there is no doubt that it is.
But are there any voices missing from this report? Any part of the story that's left untold?
Am I the only reader who wants to know what happened to the 78 percent of members who voted to split from the congregation and then lost the lawsuit? Did they start a new church? How is it doing? What do its leaders say about what happened to their former church home? Are they as excited about this merger and how everything turned out as those quoted so glowingly in the Star?
My journalistic point is simple: Including the missing voices would make a better and fuller story and take this out of the realm of puff piece and into the arena of actual news.
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